Service and Sacrifice: Mormon Spiritual Cornerstones

This is the fifth and final in a series of posts that examines the topic of Mormon spirituality, or how we respond to the Divine in personal living. Readers can find the first here, the second here, the third here and the forth here. The purpose of the series is to explain why Mormons are the way they are and what that has to do with religion and doctrine. It was inspired by critics who seem to misunderstand or question the inner spirituality of Mormons as materialists or shallow.

Many years ago I wondered what constituted a Mormon spiritual life. This pondering was brought about by critical comments that the LDS religion contained mostly materialistic emphasis of an Earthly Kingdom of God and rejection of spirit/body dualism. Usually this criticism comes from those who either believe in “Faith Only” salvation or spiritual matters should mostly be separate from secular concerns. Research on the subject has brought me to a conclusion that might sound too much like a truism than a profound discovery. Mormonism teaches that true spirituality comes from self-sacrifice in the service toward others.

Almost from the start, the concept of self-sacrifice as spiritual power has been a central Mormon teaching. What can be considered the first Priesthood manual stated:

Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

- Lectures on Faith, N.B. Lundwall Ed., pg 58.

The question is, to what end do we sacrifice? Continue reading

The Deuteronomists and the Suppression of Ancient Truths

In light of some insights I’ve gained from the Old Testament class I tutor for and comments on blog posts I’ve recently read, I’ve decided to post the following material on an important topic for our study of the Old Testament, and the Scriptures in general. This material is largely based on a previous post from my solo blog, Heavenly Ascents.
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A question that I often run into when speaking to fellow Latter-day Saints and other Christians about the Bible is the matter of why the Old Testament seems to represent such a different religious perspective from the New Testament. More specifically, why does it seem that many of the doctrines that receive such emphasis in the New Testament (and that are fundamental for Christianity) seem so obscure or even virtually absent in the Old Testament? There are many reasons that can be offered for this problem, which can be a dilemma for any Christian, but perhaps even more so for Mormons, in light of our popular belief that the fundamental doctrines and practices of the Gospel are revealed anew in largely similar form in each dispensation from the beginning of time.
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One of the main issues with the Old Testament in its final form (the form in which we have received it), and the religious views that it can be seen to represent, that is recognized by biblical scholars is the work of the so-called Deuteronomist(s) or Deuteronomic School on the text (and, as a result, the religious views) of the Hebrew Scriptures. This party (it was more likely a group than an individual), it is argued, was responsible for composing the Book of Deuteronomy (not in the time of Moses, but in the time of King Josiah, 7th century BC), and also the Deuteronomic History, comprising the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings (the principal account that we have of Israel’s history). It is also thought that this party edited the writings of the Pentateuch to fit their view of history and theology.
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Doing their work well before the Babylonian Exile, the Deuteronomists seem to have been involved in the reforms of King Josiah (see 2 Kings 22-23) and the Book of the Law that apparently served as inspiration for the reforms (2 Kgs 22:8–13) was likely the Book of Deuteronomy that they wrote (or perhaps heavily edited). These reform movements, which are not unique in history, served to ensure that the later theology of the more “mainstream” Jewish sects as well as many of the texts that form our Old Testament canon represented, in many ways, a significantly different belief system from the more ancient Israelite religion.

Psalm 24: Temple Gates and Guardians

As some of you may be aware, my post from January 20, 2011, entitled “Should We Expect to Find the Temple Ordinances as One Coherent Whole in the Scriptures? Revisiting the Question”,  generated a lengthy and impassioned discussion in the comments.  There was much debate regarding the value of efforts to  compare our modern temple ordinances with ancient ones, and the methods that should be used in such an endeavor.  I very much appreciated this discussion and believe that many important points were raised.  It was decided, by some of the involved parties, that a debate over all of the points that I suggested in the post would be a very large and time-consuming task, and that, therefore, it would be more profitable for us to discuss specific rituals (with the associated Scriptural passages), one at a time.

Before moving on with this project, I would just like to clear up a few points — a few misconceptions, maybe, regarding my initial post. First of all, I would like to emphasize that my answer to the titular question, “Should we expect to find the temple ordinances as one coherent whole in the Scriptures?”, was negative.  There is, obviously, no passage, narrative, chapter, or any other unit in the Scriptures that presents the Endowment or the entirety of the LDS ritual system as a unity or “coherent whole.” I wasn’t attempting to argue for such.  I did explain where we could perhaps look for temple themes outside of the traditional locations.  Towards the end of the post, I went a step further and suggested that there is a possibility that (although this is not all clearly perceptible from the Scriptural accounts) the ancient Israelites may have performed ceremonies in the precincts of their temple that may have contained many rituals that are comparable to what we do today in our temples.  I acknowledged that the theories upon which this assertion are based are conjectural/speculative, but I think that they are a good place to start.

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The Mormon Divisions

A few years ago a new family came into my ward. They moved from Texas and the wife had a strong accent from that region. Most Mormons from Texas I knew, mostly over the Internet, were as equally proud of that state as any born and raised there. Stereotypes flooded my mind of the typical Texas Mormon, and then of the Utah, California, and Mission field members. It didn’t take long for me to think of other Mormon groupings such as liberal and orthodox. Here is a list of those I can think of and short definitions:

True Blue Mormons – Orthodox members who don’t question authority or divinity of the LDS Church, go to Church on a weekly basis, are mostly married with children, and have or will go through the Temple.

Liberal Mormons – There are several subgroups of these. Each of them have their own defining reason for existence as a label. Most common are pro-gay marriage advocates, Feminists, Democrats, and Evolutionists. Many of them are believers in the divine authority of the LDS Church, but uncomfortable at times with that acknowledgment.

New Wave Mormons – Another name for them might be cultural Mormons, but that is a vague term that can cover any participant in Mormon life. The prominent feature is someone who doesn’t believe in the religion’s divine nature, but still actively defines themselves as members of the LDS Church. They are secularists in religious garb. Continue reading

Could Life be Inherently Just? The Significance of the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

This is one of the most important pieces I’ve written that gets to the very heart of my soul. It was also the last post I ever did on Mormon Matters; someone promptly tried to turn it into a discussion about past racist views of an apostle… and I knew my time on Mormon Matters was coming to an end.

Could Life be Inherently Just? It seems like a silly question. We all know life isn’t fair. Its cliché, isn’t it?

There is a long time “proof” that God does not exist that goes like this: “If there is a God, how could there be such injustice and evil in the world?” What they really mean is that they can’t rationally fathom the possibility that all the evil and injustice in the world could somehow be part of a greater justice or morality. Without this further explanation, the “proof” is meaningless.

There is also a “proof” that God does exist that goes like this: “Why do we all — even those of us that claim we believe otherwise — treat morality as if it’s an absolute (that is to say, not merely a construct of convenience of situation) if morality really just rose from an inherently unjust universe?” What the asker really means is that they can’t fathom the possibility that morality really is merely a construct. (I have never met, and believe I never will, a person that isn’t outraged over immoral conduct towards his or her self rather than just saying, ‘oh, morality is just a construct anyhow, so to each their own.’”)

It seems morality is the main — perhaps only — point of contention over God, and it’s a sharp point that pierces both ways.

Now consider the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man:

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